friday clippings 6/24/16

Little Diego next-door has taken upon himself the challenge of learning drumming. In the last couple months, he’s been practicing on whatever is handy, whether it be pots, pans, buckets, gates. It was hard to tell at first how invested he was in his new-found chaotic project. I suspected it was just a goof to annoy his mom, but he has persisted for at least a few months. And today I could detect for the first time his discovery of pattern and repetition. I mean it was just the usual wild thrashing and then, boom, he was controlling the beat. A momentous day for the little guy. He lives just on the other side of the east fence, against which the three big lemon cypresses somewhat muffle his practice sessions.


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For muffling little drummer boys, privacy, beauty, bird sanctuary, the cypresses are incredibly valuable to us. But of course I couldn’t just let them be cypresses.
They’d be perfect as scaffolding for vines, right? But not at the expense of harming them, of course. And that’s a very fine line, I’ve come to find out.

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I’m still amazed that the Solanum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ from Annie’s Annuals has become this happy.
It was planted against the fence, in the dry soil amongst the cypresses, with not enough light, and seemed to be puny and languishing for forever…until it wasn’t.
This is all so new, that a plant has actually followed orders: Get in there, don’t mind the awful conditions, and climb that cypress, will ya?
And it’s possible the solanum may be too obliging and eager to please. Because when it comes to choosing between the cypresses and a rollicking, rampageous vine, that’s an easy choice to make.
Little Diego has lots more practicing to do this summer.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday miscellany

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Progress report on Rudbeckia maxima. Snails love this rudbeckia, so I’ve been cutting out a lot of chewed-up lower leaves.
Believe it or not, it seems to be forming bloom stalks already.
Zone 10 can be a topsy-turvy home for true perennials, which sometimes develop a bad case of insomnia as they are constantly prodded out of dormancy, or fail to enter dormancy entirely.
Whatever happens with the blooms, I still love those leaves, so the snails have a fight on their hands.
With ‘Sundiascia Peach,’ Melianthus ‘Purple Haze.’ Blue grass is Leymus ‘Canyon Prince.’
I’ve pretty much given up on the parkway/hellstrip the past few years but am thinking of making a stab at planting it again, with this wonderful grass.
Wildly swinging car doors, careless stompers, trash throwers, all you negative forces in the universe, I’m putting ‘Canyon Prince’ up against everything you’ve got. We’ll see who wins!
Along with planting parkways, I continue to be of two minds on just about any subject. As much as I love flowers, the diascias look a bit much to me.
I think I prefer big floral displays in OPG (Other People’s Gardens). And it’s doubtful anyone would count this as a big floral display, but still it’s a bit too foo-foo for me.
Of course, insects love the foo-foo, so there’s that to consider.

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This, however, is my kind of floral display. The beschorneria bloom stalk has topped out at about 5 feet and the individual buds have opened.
This has to be one of the most colorful bloom stalks ever to grace my garden.

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Strobilanthes gossypinus is looking fine this spring too and continues to astonish. Silver and gold? Seriously, you can do that?

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My mom’s neighbor’s graptopetalum is covering itself in its unique galactic bloom strucuture again.
It’s hard to sneak a photo because I have to stand directly in front of their window to do so.
Being a gated community, there’s not a lot of love for strangers with cameras fawning over their plants.

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I don’t remember the lemon cypresses producing these last year.
Nearby plantings were getting coated in a golden dust that had me mystified as to its source, until I knocked a cypress branch and unleashed a mini golden dust storm.
Of course I couldn’t leave the cypresses alone and have forced them into double duty. Passion vines and solanums are threading their way up.

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And I keep forgetting to credit Abutilon venosum for blooming all winter, so thank you!

gardens without borders

This corner of my small, jam-packed garden is where it gets crazy. Okay, okay. Crazier.

This east end of the garden kind of horseshoes around this collection of containers, with the main sitting area (and more containers) off to the left.

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At first glance, I realize the takeaway is That’s a lot of containers. The polite version anyway.

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Agave x leopoldii and Agave ‘Tradewinds’ among the pots stacked on the concrete core samples.

And that’s no lie. Everyone knows that potted plants have a lot in common with rabbits, right? Same proliferation capabilities.

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But there’s even more containers here than meets the eye.
Here on the east fence, this little bricked area was once a much bigger seating area, covered by a pergola for shade.
Catastrophe struck when a eucalyptus fell on the pergola (which saved the house), and I’ve since nibbled away at the bricks to plant the cypresses for privacy.
A little creative destruction, with catastrophe viewed as opportunity. Now it’s just a small bricked postage stamp perfect for staging pots.

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Planted behind the postage stamp in the ground are the cypresses, of course, and the grasses, Pennisetum ‘Skyrocket.’
I much prefer how this grass grows here, constrained by the cypresses. The expanding clumps in the main garden will need to be split this winter.

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To get our bearings, the furcraea is in the ground in the arm of the horseshoe that separates the postage stamp from the main sitting area near the house.

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Everything else, including the Salvia ‘Waverly’ and Leycesteria formosa, are in containers hidden behind the staging for the succulents.
I can’t keep this moderately thirsty and very large salvia in the garden anymore, so I’m treating it like a summer annual for a container.
And I’ve learned that the finicky leycesteria needs perfect sun/shade, so a container makes sense for it too.
I thought they’d both look great in fall against the grasses in bloom. The staging hides their large, black plastic nursery containers.
The leycesteria (aka Pheasant Berry aka Himalayan Honeysuckle) should have blooms, but mine is still all leaves at this point, which I don’t mind at all.

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The soil in this narrow strip against the fence is filled with cypress roots now, but that doesn’t mean the fun is over.
The Spanish Flag vine, Mina lobata, is growing in a container at the base of the middle cypress.
It needed a little training at first, but being a vine it knows exactly what to do and has really gotten down to business in the last month.
This annual vine, always suggested as an easy climber for summer, is day-length sensitive and will only flower when the nights grow just long enough to suit it.
I’m not sure if I’ll see flowers this fall before the seasonal Santa Ana winds off the desert whip through the garden and shred the Spanish Flag to pieces.
Who said gardens aren’t exciting? They’re full of cliff-hangers like this.

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Another vine, Passiflora ‘Sunburst,’ is in a container at the base of the first cypress, where it’s scrambled up over 12 feet in a very short period of time.
It has set loads of buds, but it may be too late in the season. I’ve read that this passion vine doesn’t mind cooler temperatures, so we’ll see.
The Batman cape-leaves are almost entertainment enough.

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I’ve got a couple more passion vines in containers, one at the base of a pittosporum and another against the back wall of the house (getting too much southern exposure at the moment).

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Just as I always do with potted agaves, I plunged this Agave geminiflora into the garden when some post-summer room became available.

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Containers give so much flexibility, there’s no limit to the amount of crazy you can stir up.
Bring a vine to the cypress. Turn up or down the water. Moving to the Canary Islands? Give them all away to a lucky bunch of friends.
Another great thing about containers is, if you go back to the top photo and cover the pots with your hand, the collector mania is instantly drained from the photo.
Take away the containers, and once again you’re a respectable citizen in a serene garden with healthy control of your impulses.

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I look at it this way: If the vine experiments fail, I’ll have empty containers ready to use next summer.

Wednesday clippings 8/26/15

So what’s shakin’ this muggy end of August? As little as possible, you say?
There’s been all manner of weird stuff going on, including a recurring problem with street-parked neighborhood cars getting their gas siphoned.
This on the heels of the rash of catalytic converter thefts a couple months ago.
And then there’s that wobble and/or meltdown in the stock market that’s got Marty cursing like the sailor he is.
Lots of plant losses, of course. I could go on, but instead I’ll just paraphrase Annie Hall, that summer is full of misery and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.

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For vigor so unstoppable all summer it borders on downright rudeness, you can’t beat a yucca.

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Yucca ‘Margaritaville’ has two bloom spikes, just this one showing for now, but there’s another spear gaining size.

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Proof that it’s not just a pleasure garden, but a working garden. With some reading and occasional napping too on muggy days…

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Knock wood, Grevillea ‘Moonlight’ seems to have survived its first summer.
I am basically a gadget-free gardener, but this summer has sparked an interest in researching soil moisture sensors like they use in viticulture.
There’s a lot of root competition from neighboring gardens, trees, hedges, and just when I think things are well-watered for a couple weeks, there’s signs of stress.
Unlike all the stuff I’m asked to review that I’m either (a) uninterested in or (b) unqualified to comment upon, a moisture gauge would get my thoughtful appraisal.

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This bocconia in particular has been a problem child in that regard.
Supposedly drought tolerant when established, it’s a few years old now and still shouldn’t be getting the vapors if it misses a drink now and then.

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Well, here’s something cheerful. Max Parker kindly sent this photo to verify my Agave desmettiana ‘Joe Hoak’ had arrived safely at his new home.
The trade was this agave for a couple passifloras, ‘Sunburst’ and ‘Flying V.’ What a deal! Both of these passifloras are smaller vines, not house-eaters.
I’ve tentatively placed the potted ‘Sunburst’ at the base of one of the lemon cypresses, which will provide a good amount of sun but hopefully not too strong.
The theory is the vine will seek out the shade/sun exposure it prefers as it threads through the cypress. There’s nothing to photograph yet. Maybe in a couple weeks.

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I got the idea to use the cypresses because it seems to be working for Mina lobata, self-sown from last year. No blooms yet but, unlike last summer, the leaves stay in good shape all day.
I’m trying to find that sweet spot, where there’s enough sun for blooming but not too much that the vines are wilted by the end of the day.

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I’ll close with this nice planting of Agave ‘Cornelius’ I spotted recently in Downtown Los Angeles.
Gotta go put some clothes in the dryer.

more on the east fence

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I might as well continue with the east fence, the dark blue/black of which can be seen in the distance looking under the pergola.
The pots shown yesterday are on the brick patio to the left of the cypresses, and the fence continues on to the right, hidden behind the cypresses.
I need to decide whether that yucca stays or goes now that it’s become such a shaggy beast after blooming last year.
Oh, and it was raining this morning (!) Well, the pavement was slightly damp around 6:30 a.m.

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The back garden wraps around the pergola like a horseshoe. Tetrapanax on the left. Yes, that is yet another collection of pots at the base of the cypresses.
The cypresses are Calif. natives Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora.’ The bricks on the right once formed a terrace.
Some years back and dozens of plants later, the terrace was scaled down into this narrow walkway against the south fence.

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A couple months ago Marty was standing on a scaffold of an old door and sawhorses on that narrow walkway to clip the creeping fig that covers the south masonry fence.
The creeping fig, Ficus pumila, gives the 5-foot fence an extra 3 feet of height, which completely screens us from the south.

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Looking at the creeping fig-covered south wall through the pergola last November.
Table was much less cluttered, the potted Agave ‘Boutin’s Blue’ was still plunged in the garden for something to look at in winter.
I liked the interplay of those two attenuata agaves staggered in height but removed the pot recently as summer growth enveloped it.
The variegated attenuata is planted in the ground.

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The coprosma has grown considerably since November.
I love what this line of evergreen shrubs and trees is doing: the dark red coprosma in the foreground, grey, thin-leaved olearia, then the blue acacia.
(Coprosma ‘Plum Hussy,’ willow-like Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ Acacia baileyana ‘Purpurea.’)

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The famous shine on the coprosma’s leaves really leaps out against the matte quality of its neighbors.

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This is the scale I usually cover, what’s happening at ground level, like this Aloe scobinifolia about to bloom.
This summer/fall-blooming aloe also bloomed last November, not long after I acquired it.
Carex testacea reseeds, variegated St. Augustine grass spreads by runners and needs a watchful eye. Dry soil keeps it in check.

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Looking from the west at the east fence last November, which shows how the garden wraps around the pergola.
The tetrapanax blooms had yet to be cut down. The potted cussonia has been repotted and moved to afternoon shade.
The bare branches of my neighbor’s peach tree are now leafed out, filling that gap to the left of the cypresses.
Is my obsession with privacy in the back garden showing much yet?
(I can probably date that obsession to when, at 13, I discovered the neighbor boy had been spying on me through my bedroom window…
and then started inviting friends over for the show. It didn’t help that I already had a crush on him…loser!)

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Potted Aeonium ‘Cyclops’ holds the cussonia’s corner now, luminous at sunset.
Agave lophantha ‘Quadricolor’ gets a nice glow too.

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The neighbors are, intentionally or not, working well with us on the plantings along the east boundary, which has now achieved almost total privacy.
There are some questionable choices, though.
A California Pepper Tree, Schinus molle, was planted by a neighbor just outside my southeast corner, which will eventually screen out that powder-blue building.
It’ll be nice to lose the Rear Window vibe, but when the Pepper Tree fully matures, I just might have a shade garden until mid-day.
Seeing these photos, I urgently need to decide if that yucca has become incredibly overbearing or if it’s holding it all together.
It would definitely open up the garden if we parted ways, and rather than a solitary verbascum I could plant three in its place, or a leucospermum, etc, etc.


Toyon, California Holly

This sturdy evergreen shrub native to California, Heteromeles arbutifolia, is also known as the Christmas Berry or California Holly. Here’s why:

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There’s an old urban legend that early European settlers in Los Angeles, where this holly lookalike grew especially abundant, named their new home in its honor.
Hollywoodland. Ultimately shortened to Hollywood.

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At a neighbor’s holiday party over the weekend, I discovered it in full-on berriment growing on the west side of their bungalow.
Of course, today I just had to beg for a few sprigs of berries to bring home.
(As far as I can tell, I’ve now coined that word “berriment,” and it just might stand as my lasting contribution to humankind.)
The foamy mass in the background is a native buckwheat, but not, because I asked, the giant St. Catherine’s Lace (Eriogonum giganteum).

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Irresistible impulses, like mine, to bring indoors the toyon’s bright red berries began to threaten its very existence until a law was passed in the 1920s prohibiting picking the berries in the wild.
A ban local birds wildly celebrated. There’s a complicated bit of science and tanins and whatnot involved in the question of toxicity to humans, but the short, safe version is don’t.
Just don’t eat the fresh berries. Notwithstanding the fact that local Indians did all manner of clever things with the flowers, berries and bark, for food and medicine.
Usual size is 8 to 15 feet, but it can and does grow bigger. My neighbor’s toyon is trained as a small tree, but it can also be grown as a hedge.
Easy and forgiving, sun or even part shade, tolerant of regular irrigation or, once established, summer drought.

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Other plants in the vase are sprigs of lemon cypress and olive from our garden, very familiar to Evie, but the toyon from just a dozen houses away might as well have been from another country.
Evie immediately leapt onto the table to investigate. Bears and coyotes are known to eat the berries, but I have no idea what the digestive tract of Felis catus would make of them.

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Evie never sampled, but did make a thorough, full-vase investigation.

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I filled a couple urns for the mantle too, mostly with lemon cypress and olive branches, with just a few sprigs of toyon berries, which manage to communicate holiday merriment even in very small quantities.

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Toyon became the official native plant of Los Angeles on April 17, 2012.

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For berries of your own to bring indoors during the winter holidays as much as you please, toyon is carried in local nurseries, usually at fall planting time.
Los Pilitas Nursery is also a source, as well as the Theodore Payne Nursery and Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden’s Grow Native Nurseries.
Any of the above resources will patiently and knowledgeably explain how toyon can be an essential evergreen in your summer-dry garden.


blue fence

Double-sided, dog-eared redwood fence, you win. Smug, aren’t you? You know I can’t afford to replace you.
Over the years I’ve stained you blue (twice), stenciled you in scrolls, but to no avail.
There you stand, a blue, stenciled, dog-eared redwood reminder of the stark boundaries of my garden.

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Granted, you make a dramatic backdrop for chartreuse, a theme I work pretty hard.

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And sturdy support for Potted’s City Planter too.

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In some light you’re almost black.

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I’m not sure I’d want to replace your insistent vertical lines with horizontal lines though.
Last year I was certain that the answer was to affix smooth Hardiebacker cement board to you and paint that an exciting color.
I’m sure I had that plan in fall, which is when the energy for projects usually arrives — in a narrow sliver of a window before the holidays devour all that excess energy.
But the weight of the cement board might cause sag, which would only be exchanging one irritation for another.

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This eastern boundary is all hardscape until we get to the row of lemon cypresses.
Which is why I’m always on the lookout for some huge Euphorbia ammak or fence post cactus to grow in large pots along your exposed fenceline.

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Ghostly remnants of the stenciling project. I didn’t exactly stencil your whole length but kinda ran out of steam after 5 feet or so.
I’ll blame that on the holidays too.
(Pots hold two newish members of my ever-expanding cussonia collection.)

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I will say that your homespun rusticity doesn’t mind sharing space with a little industrial chic.
A sleek new fence might strenuously object.

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Blue fence, you win fair and square. (Until I nail some Hardiebacker board on your ass, that is.)

streetside; your own personal prairie

When my job canceled today, I knew exactly where I wanted to go before breakfast, before even the first cup of coffee. The local neighborhood prairie.
It’s something you don’t see everyday in my coastal neighborhood in Los Angeles County, where a mix of succulents are usually the first landscape choice for stylishly beating the drought.
This is a very new, waterwise, lawn-to-garden conversion built around a matrix of grasses, with the eyebrow grass, Bouteloua gracilis, predominating. There are zero succulents included.
The folksy, barn-red color of the bungalow and wood-and-cattle-panel fence reinforce the expression of pioneer spirit reflected in their choice of landscape.

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This is prairie Southern California style. The blue against the pillars is from plumbago trained on cattle panel.

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A native cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa ‘Citriodora’

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Easy to tell that the house faces east.

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On the south side, Pittosporum is planted along the outside of the fence near the sidewalk. The dark leaves are a Euphorbia cotinifolia.
White roses are most likely ‘Iceberg.’

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Young cypresses behind the fence. So this open, inviting view is only temporary until the privacy screens mature.

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There’s some sort of mesh shade cloth hanging behind the bell.

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The climber Solanum jasminoides will fill in here too.

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Detail of cattle panel fence, last night’s party lights still lit. Paper bags as shades for battery-powered votives maybe?

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I should have waited for sunrise before taking this photo, but it shows how the fence fits into the side entrance.
From this side I could hear sounds in the kitchen of the household waking, so it seemed impolite to linger.

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Unlike my admittedly superficial trial of the eyebrow grass, these are proving that it will thrive in Southern California.
Bouteloua gracilis is the smallest of the prairie grasses.
Their size sets the scale for the rest of the garden, with plants in bloom just grazing above the knee on a walk from the front door to the mailbox.

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Informal paths of decomposed granite wind through the plantings. We’re often warned against using d.g. where it might be tracked indoors onto wooden floors.
Maybe a shoes-off policy is a house rule here. I like that the porch paint is in the same color range as the d.g.

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Among the big sweeps of eyebrow grass are also carex, phormium, lavender, caryopteris, gaura, Salvia greggii, yarrow.

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And a couple clumps of the ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis

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How much “down” time a prairie-style landscape imposes is a key issue in a climate that handles dormancy almost imperceptibly. There are many plant choices that will see a zone 10 landscape through the year without any bare soil visible at any time or need for radical haircuts. Roughly calculating, if the grasses are cut back, say, before Christmas, they’ll be making growth again in February. On the other hand, many succulents also have periods where they’re not at their best, high summer for example. Knowing the trade-offs when choosing how and with what plants to replace the front lawn is a crucial consideration. What I like about this house and garden is that it seems to know exactly what it wants.

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back on the home front


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It’s finally happening.

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Miraculously, after a couple close calls resulting in an almost fatal wilt, Musschia wollastonii has survived and begun to hoist up that much-anticipated chartreuse candelabra of blooms.
The Madeira Giant Bellflower must be an unforgettable sight in bloom on its native cliffs of Madeira. As with Aeonium tabuliforme, the cliff face is what’s shaped that remarkable architecture. Some claim to grow musschia mainly for the leaves, but I don’t find them wildly exciting, possibly because it’s been struggling to survive here. Musschia is monocarpic, meaning it will die after blooming. Which also means I can now die happy, having seen it bloom in my garden. But what vigilance to get to this point! In spring I parked this pot right by a hose bib on the north side of the house for its daily shower.

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Also newly in bloom and slightly offbeat, Emilia javanica ‘Irish Poet,’ the Tassel Flower.
A delicacy that couldn’t compete in a waist-high, full-throttle summer garden, but it stands out fine in mine, which is in the process of undergoing accommodation to the ongoing drought.

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Emilia may be small, but it packs a big orange punch in its ‘Irish Poet,’ form, seed from Nan Ondra.
Many years ago I grew the species, which is a darker, burnt orange bordering on red. I much prefer the electrifying orange of ‘Irish Poet.’

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These pots give a sense of its scale. Last agave on the left was just brought home from the recent Orange County succulent show.

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Agave ‘Tradewinds,’ a blue-green striped potatorum selection thought to be a seedling of ‘Kissho Kan.’

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Diminutive emilia is barely visible on the lower left, unlike the fountain of Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket’ in the distance.

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The plumes arch just where the Cussonia gamtoosensis canopy begins, a wonderful effect that’s unlikely to be duplicated next year as the cabbage tree continues to grow.
Today I watched for the first time as a sparrow landed in the baby cussonia, which to my mind makes it a real tree now.

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There’s also two big clumps of this grass fronting the lemon cypresses on the eastern boundary*

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And another clump growing amidst Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’ Both thrive on minimal supplemental water, which keeps them in trim, upright shape.

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The front of the cussonia border, which shows how Aeonium ‘Zwartkop’ looks in its summer dormancy period here.
I can appreciate ‘Zwartkop’s’ skeletal form, as opposed to the giant ‘Cyclops,’ which was getting increasingly annoying in its off-season shabbiness, so it’s been pulled out of the garden to be grown in a container.
All the plants here are well adapted to low water use, except for a couple patrinia I foolishly included this year. Crambe maritima is doing really well, another plant I saw in several Portland gardens recently. Yucca, furcraea, gaillardia, adenanthos, coprosma, Pelargonium ‘Crocodile,’ anigozanthos, agastache, echium, Rekohu carex. A Beschorneria alba is in here somewhere too. Variegated St. Augustine grass is weaving through the legs of the aeonium and spilling onto the bricks. The iron pyramid was propping up a castor bean I recently pulled out.

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In ‘Cyclops’ place I decided to try agapanthus, something I’m as surprised to type as I was to purchase, having never brought one home before. This one is ‘Gold Strike,’ and it wasn’t easy to find. I wrongly assumed I’d have the pick of tender varieties in inky blues, even deep purples, all within a few miles’ radius of home. After all, they grow like weeds here. There must be a wonderful selection locally, right? And if not, there must be U.S. growers with extensive lists, right? Wrong on both counts. The best selection, of course, is found with UK nurseries. A couple years back I attended a lecture given by Dan Hinkley on what he’s up to at his new garden at Windcliff, and a good part of the presentation was on his new-found love of agapanthus. “How suburban!” I thought at the time, and “Dan’s going soft!” But as usual, Dan’s right. Mature stands are tolerant of drought, make a mid-summer garden look fresh again, and now I can’t wait to try them with Pennisetum ‘Sky Rocket.’ The deepest blue to be found locally is ‘Storm Cloud,’ but I’m not done searching around for other kinds with names like ‘Purple Emperor’ and ‘Night Sky.’ Still can’t believe I’m shopping around for agapanthus, though.

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A large mint bush near the ‘Cyclops’ aeonium was showing its age, so that was given the heave-ho recently too.
Prostranthera never gets older than a few years in my garden and is well known to be short-lived.
Waiting in the wings, outgrowing its pot was Eucalyptus ‘Moon Lagoon,’ which I intended on planting in the mint bush’s spot in the fall.
This is one of the mallee eucalyptus, which are more large shrubs than the towering giants Californians associate with eucalyptus.

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Never much inclined to wait, I called Jo O’Connell at Australian Native Plants Nursery, where I bought the eucalypt, to ask her opinion.
She said to absolutely go for it now, mid-summer, a woman after my own heart. And so it’s been planted.

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Speaking of suburban, how about some marigolds? (Now who’s going soft?)

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What an undeserving bad rap the bedding plants industry has given marigolds. The tall strains like this one, ‘Cinnabar’ from Derry Watkins, are so hot. If you don’t have a bias against orange, that is.

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And I don’t think there’s anything easier to grow from seed than marigolds.

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The grey shrub arching over the marigolds is Olearia virgata v. lineata ‘Dartonii,’ brought home from Far Reaches Farm a few years ago.
(“If you’ve hankered for a willow but lament your dry conditions, then weep no more.”)
It was so cool to see this shrub growing against the greenhouse at Old Germantown Gardens in Portland recently, where it was tightly clipped in a more columnar form.
The Agave attenuata is ‘Boutin’s Blue,’ formerly ‘Huntington’s Blue,’ not quite happy in full sun. In a large pot, it’s the Goldilocks of agaves and gets moved around quite a bit.

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Marigolds in the distance, the new Leucadendron ‘Ebony’ in the foreground, handling its first summer beautifully so far.
The sideritis to its right wasn’t so lucky, inexplicably collapsing a couple days ago, about a day after this photo was taken.
Every so often around mid-summer, this mysterious soil-borne wilt process takes out a plant.
I know in my absence the garden was watered really well for a change, and that might have kicked it off.
The sideritis was one of two self-sown seedlings I found this spring, so it was a gimme anyway.
I’ve already planted a couple Cirsium occidentale in its place.
(Seeing the cirsium almost in bloom in Scott’s garden in Portland was a nice moment too.)

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The Berkheya purpurea I brought home from Cistus a few weeks ago can just be seen behind the leucadendron.
The oregano-like plant is Calamintha nepeta ‘Gottlieb Friedkund.’ Fabulous plant I’ve been spreading around the garden. From Digging Dog.

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Another annual growing fast in the heat, Hibiscus trionum, seed also from Nan Ondra.

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Rudbeckia triloba is everything I want in a summer daisy, except for its moderate thirst.
There’s a chance that if it self-sows, the progeny will be better situated for drier conditions. Slim chance, but you never know. And there’ll always be gaillardia.

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Eryngium padanifolium in its second year, reliably blooming again, a great relief.

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The ‘Limelight’ Miracle of Peru seed around, and a few are always welcome.

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A potted Lotus jacobaeus has filled out well this year, much more so than when planted directly into the garden.

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Aristolochia fimbriata scoffs at any neglect I throw its way. No surprise that it was included on the sales tables at a recent succulent show. It’s that tough.

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Crassula pruinosa, also brought home from Cistus

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The crassula was tucked in at the base of Euphorbia ammak. That golden-leaved shrub thrives in pot culture, even the careless kind I practice.

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Really brightens things up. Corokia virgata ‘Sunsplash’

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Also doing really well in a container is the Shaving Brush Tree, Pseudobombax ellipticum

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And that just about takes care of mid-summer 2014.


*I keep neglecting to mention that one of the best attributes of this excellent grass is that it is sterile and therefore noninvasive, unlike Pennisetum setaceum.

a succulent table (filed under fun but useless things)

If I wake up to a day that has a few extra hours rattling around like loose change in the pockets of Marty’s jeans that I always borrow, clinking against paper clips and last night’s Peroni bottle cap, it’s pretty much guaranteed I’ll make something, not all of which ends up on the blog. Case in point, as Mr. Serling said. There’s this old, topless coffee table base I’ve kept around for just such a day with a few spare hours, which happened to be sometime last summer. Maybe I’d make a new tabletop out of mosaiced bits of salvaged wood lying around. An idea which, big surprise, turned out to involve a basic knowledge of carpentry that I don’t currently possess.

But look, there’s all these succulents that need thinning! You can see where this is headed, in the direction of the craft of least resistance: Succulent table!


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Completed in a couple hours, it immediately turned from triumph into garden albatross, taking up all the room of a coffee table with zero functionality.
In my zeal to make use of excess succulent cuttings, I neglected to build into it a flat surface, even if only large enough for a cup of coffee. Or a Peroni.

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At the end of some ill-fated projects, there’s that weird sensation, a mixture of both accomplishment and dread. This was one of those projects.

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But the succulents were thriving in the shallow, free-draining root run, a hammock of hardware cloth mossed to hold soil, so I continued to care for it, cursing freely when my knees banged into the table, as they often did.
With summer approaching, and chairs and tables getting shuffled, I really wanted it out of the way, preferably in a spot shielded from full sun to reduce watering needs.
And if there wasn’t a suitable spot, it was time for the albatross to go.

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Looking around this tiny garden for a scrap of space I’ve somehow overlooked, as I’ve done a zillion times before, I settled on a gap between the Monterey cypresses against the eastern fence.
Not wanting to crowd these important privacy screens, I’d left the ground mostly bare among the three. The table tucked in snugly between two, and the albatross was, at last, no longer underfoot.
In fact, the albatross loved its new protected location so much that the succulents plumped up and spilled over the sides, hiding the armature of hardware cloth.
And for the first time it didn’t seem quite so silly after all.

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Tucked in against the fence, even this week’s hot and fiercely dry Santa Ana winds couldn’t touch it.
Now, instead of a failed table, it’s an abstract band of mostly bright Aeonium ‘Kiwi’ floating about 3 feet above ground level, lighting up the gloom at the base of the cypresses.

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(Here’s a closeup of the fasciation on that bloom of Euphorbia lambii you probably noticed.)

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Once the cypresses and a couple shrubs mature/survive, the albatross will have to be relocated, but it can stay through summer.
Just forward of the cypresses, the shrubs are dark-leaved Ceanothus ‘Tuxedo’ in the foreground and Leucospermum ‘Sunrise’ in the distance.

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Now the succulent table experiment has me thinking in new directions. After visiting the Moorten Botanical Garden, building raised benches for succulents and cacti has become an intriguing possibility I’ve been keeping open for an underused side patio, something I can practice on with those basic carpentry skills I hope to acquire.